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Why I Risked My Life to Stop Arctic Drilling

How far would you go for something you believed in?

Photo Credit: Greenpeace


This article was published in collaboration with

Basil Tsimoyianis stares out from a support speedboat in the Russian Arctic waters, watching his friends get blasted with a water cannon.  In a few minutes, Basil will be riding out to switch places with them, relieving them from the cannon’s icy pounding. The cannon, normally used in case of fires on the oil rig, now shoots out in a steady bend, drowning his friends whose boat is chained to the anchor of a ship filled with workers — many of whom are frustrated that they can’t lift the ship’s anchor and get to work on the oil rig today.

I don’t want to do this.

But there’s no time to think any more than that; there’s a job to be done. Basil and the others begin preparing to take over for the activists chained to the Anna Akhmatova, a passenger vessel that carries workers to Prirazlomnaya, Gazprom’s oil rig. Gazprom is a huge oil and gas company planning to drill for oil in the Arctic. But if workers can’t get to Gazprom’s rig, the company’s preparation for oil drilling in the Arctic will temporarily be disrupted. Basil moves about, working up a little sweat, as he adjusts his three layers of insulating gear — and then they’re off.

The wind brushes Basil’s face as the speedboat dashes through the freezing, gray waters. Basil’s eyes gaze ahead at the powerful arch.

Like a river flying through the air.

It’s hard for him to notice much else, like the rainbow brightening up the cloudy sky.

As the speedboat zooms closer, Basil’s eyes dart to his friends, huddled in a tiny boat, chained to the anchor of huge ship. They all hold up wooden shields that take some of the water’s beating.

His eyes close as the speedboat nears. The water from the cannon sprinkles him. And then, it’s suddenly gushing, as bodies change boats, and Basil grabs a shield.

This is far worse than the hoses.

The Setup

It’s three days earlier, on August 24, 2012 and Basil is on one of two portable ledges with tents on them on the side of Gazprom’s monstrous oil rig. An hour ago, Basil and five other Greenpeace activists from around the world had climbed up the Prirazlomnaya, in teams of three, using its mooring lines. The teams each set up a portaledge.

Basil shares a portaledge with Terry Christenson and Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director, who starts taking media calls. Kumi explains that Gazprom is planning on beginning its oil drilling operations early next year, making it the first company to start commercial oil production in the offshore Arctic. He passionately describes how, the carbon dioxide admissions from drilling will continue to cause the ice in the Arctic to melt, at a time when 75 percent of Arctic sea ice has already been lost. Yet, sea ice is what keeps the planet cool, reflecting sunlight. Plus, if oil drilling in the Arctic begins, Kumi emphasizes, an oil spill will happen, causing irreversible damages.

Basil looks up and sees workers gathering at the rig’s edge. One worker is giving him the finger. Another sneaks him a thumbs-up. Suddenly, Basil sees one of the rig’s massive cranes lowering down toward their portaledge. The crane is carrying a worker, who nears the ledge and says:

“How long will you be here?”

“We plan to be here for awhile. It’s a non-violent protest. We’re not going to harm or damage anything. We’re protesting against Gazprom’s exploration of the Arctic,” Basil answers respectfully. “We will keep this peaceful.”